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More Shade from Chicago

As a follow up to our discussion last week, read this Wall Street Journal op-ed by University Chicago President Robert Zimmer.

Free speech is at risk at the very institution where it should be assured: the university.

Invited speakers are disinvited because a segment of a university community deems them offensive, while other orators are shouted down for similar reasons. … In many cases, these efforts have been supported by university administrators.

Indeed. Falk was supported by Dean Bolton and many (most? all?) other Williams administrators. Note also the six (!) usages of some version of “comfort”

A university should not be a sanctuary for comfort … Demands are made to eliminate readings that might make some students uncomfortable. … Some assert that universities should be refuges from intellectual discomfort and that their own discomfort with conflicting and challenging views should override the value of free and open discourse. … Universities cannot be viewed as a sanctuary for comfort … Having one’s assumptions challenged and experiencing the discomfort that sometimes accompanies this process are intrinsic parts of an excellent education.

Echos of Robert Gaudino’s claim that “uncomfortable learning” should be at the center of a Williams education. Recall that Gaudino’s Ph.D. was from Chicago. Is there a connection?

[Post edited after publication.]

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New Rules for Outside Speakers III

Here (doc) and here are the new rules for outside speakers/performers. It seems obvious that these rules were created in response to the controversies surrounding Uncomfortable Learning, especially John Derbyshire. Let’s spend 3 days discussing them. Today is Day 3.

The College retains the right of refusal for any outside speaker/performer and/or their campus sponsor for any reason.

The College is a private organization and so it is within its rights to refuse any visitor. You might think that this new policy makes things harder for Uncomfortable Learning. You would be exactly wrong. Uncomfortable Learning is now in a stronger position than ever because now the College must decide, ahead of time, which speakers it is going to ban.

Imagine that UL leaders want to make life tough for Adam Falk. All they need to do is ask him (or the “Assistant Director for Student Organizations & Involvement in the Office of Student Life”) if they may invite person X to Williams. That is what the policy requires of them. They don’t have to — in fact, they are not allowed to! — invite person X before getting this permission. But this procedure (permission first, invitation second) means that they can endlessly torture Adam Falk by asking for permission for speakers that span the continuum from John Derbyshire on leftward.

The College is then trapped. Either they allow Uncomfortable Learning to develop a long list of all the speakers that Williams has banned (imagine the Washington Post article that would come out of the leaking of this list!) or they have to draw the line at Derbyshire and allow just about everyone else in. With luck, they will be smart enough to choose Door #2.

Does Uncomfortable Learning have the necessary student leadership to take advantage of this opportunity? Time will tell. What are your predictions?

And, perhaps more importantly, who should Uncomfortable Learning invite? Here and here might be good places to start . . .

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New Rules for Outside Speakers II

Here (doc) and here are the new rules for outside speakers/performers. It seems obvious that these rules were created in response to the controversies surrounding Uncomfortable Learning, especially John Derbyshire. Let’s spend 3 days discussing them. Today is Day 2.

There are lots of nitpicky new rules:

Student members of an OSL RSO must meet with the Assistant Director for Student Organizations & Involvement in the Office of Student Life at least one month in advance of the speaker/performer’s requested appearance to disclose and discuss contracts, funding sources, location, logistics, publicity, and other details.

Contracts for any outside performer/speaker being paid for coming to campus may be signed ONLY by an agent of the institution.

And so on. Comments/questions:

1) I doubt that all these rules could possibly be enforced. How can students give a month’s notice for an event scheduled for, say. September 30 when they didn’t even start to plan the event until school started on September 4?

2) There is nothing wrong with rules as long as the College enforces them in a content-neutral fashion. Do you think that Williams will enforce these rules against Uncomfortable Learning while giving progressive groups a pass? I hope not. The Record should certainly investigate.

3) The biggest problem with rules and bureaucracy is that they sometimes destroy the spaces in between. For example, do/should these rules prevent the Springstreeters from inviting a visiting a capella to perform? (Does this still happen? It was common back in the day.)

This section seems created specially for (or designed to stop?) Uncomfortable Learning:

The provision of funding from alumni, foundations, or other non-college sources for a performer/speaker and/or their program must be disclosed to the college. All agreements and arrangements related to such funding must be fully disclosed to the college at least two weeks in advance of an event. Contact the Office of Student Life for more information on seeking such approval.

But I don’t think it matters. UL will just inform the College (as they did in co-sponsoring last week’s speaker?) and the College will say Yes, as long as the speaker is not Derbyshire. The College already knows who the alumni funders of UL are. In fact, college officials have known from the start. And these alumni don’t care if the College knows. They just prefer to remain in the background, if only to avoid being hassled by social justice warrior wannabes like Sam Crane.

Nothing here need slow down Uncomfortable Learning, assuming, that is, that there are still students who believe in its mission of widening the range of opinions expressed at Williams. Are there?

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New Rules for Outside Speakers I

Here (doc) are the new rules for outside speakers/performers. (Can anyone confirm that these are the actual rules? Are they posted someone on the Williams website? These were sent by a source.) It seems obvious that these rules were created in response to the controversies surrounding Uncomfortable Learnings, especially John Derbyshire. Let’s spend 3 days discussing them. Today is Day 1.

To host an outside speaker or performer’s appearance and reserve a space for your event on campus, you must be one of the following:

A student representing an officially registered, College Council-recognized student organization (OSL RSO) Click here for more information on the registration process.

A student representing an organization that is part of the Minority Coalition (MinCo) or is advised by the Davis Center (DC RSO). Click here for information regarding DC RSO’s.

A faculty member.

1) This is a reasonable rule! I don’t particularly like it that faculty members have more rights than students, but such a distinction is not crazy.

2) I have never really understood why the students in charge of UL have never registered. They derive no meaningful advantage from not doing so. They just hand their opponents a handy cudgel to beat them with. They now have to register, which is almost costless and probably a good idea.

3) I hate it that there is one rule for most students (get registered with College Council) and another rule — separate but equal! — for students associated with Min Co. Why do this? Why separate Ephs according to the color of their skin or their political rules?

4) If UL is smart and/or trouble-making, that ought to go to the Davis Center and register as a part of the “Williams Activist Coalition.” Imagine the (hilarious!) stink they could make if Ferentz Lafargue tried to prevent them from joining the coalition! I bet that the paperwork here is much less onerous than the College Council paperwork.

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Maluf ’18 on UL

Part 1 of Emilia Maluf’s ’18 Record series on Uncomfortable Learning was the worst piece of student journalism this year. How was Part 2?

1) Much better than Part 1! Maluf deserves credit for getting in contact with several of the alumni involved.

2) But there are still many problems. Consider her opening sentence:

To the student body, the operations of Uncomfortable Learning (UL) are shrouded in secrecy.

First, this is a group that has invited a dozen (?) speakers to campus over the last three years. At every single one of these events, a UL student has stood up, told the audience a bit about UL and invited other students to join. There is no “shroud” or “secrecy.” The Record itself has covered many of these events.

Second, let’s try this opening sentence with other student organizations.

To the student body, the operations of the Lecture Committee are shrouded in secrecy.

Now, in a stupid sense, this is true. Only a handful of students (not directly involved) know anything about the Lecture Committee or College Councils Finance Committee or the JA Selection Committee or . . . And that is OK! Life is busy and there is no reason why a random student needs to concern herself with the inner-workings of the dozens of student (and faculty!) committees/groups/clubs on campus. But Maluf is guilty of the worst sort of yellow journalism when she pretends (without quoting anyone!) that UL is especially secretive.

All but one, current head of group Zach Wood ’18, requested to remain anonymous.

Because she is not a very good journalist! First, the absurd first part of the series does nothing to engender confidence among students/alumni involved in UL. Second, she failed to take the opportunity (which at least one person provided her with) to come up with a quote that he would be comfortable saying on the record. Serious journalist do this by allowing the source to offer some material on background and to come up with a quote, often on a less controversial aspect of the topic, that the source is happy to see in print.

There is much more that is problematic here, but my sense is that readers are bored with the topic. Sound off in the comments if you want more Fisking!

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Self-Described Reporter

Worst Record article of the year? “Community examines Uncomfortable Learning (UL) after controversy” by Emilia Maluf.

First, not a single current member of the Williams community is quoted about the role of UL! Reporting on UL is an excellent idea. I am sure lots of Ephs have opinions. Professors like Sam Crane have been examining UL closely. Professor Steve Miller, as part of PBK, has co-sponsored at least one of UL’s talks. Maluf should have interviewed them and quoted them. Or her editors needed to come up with a better title.

Second, note the absurd bias in descriptions like this:

The extension of an invitation to speak to Suzanne Venker, a self-described author and occasional Fox News contributor whose views many found misogynistic and homophobic, and subsequent cancellation of that event sparked the controversy that led to the group’s rise in ubiquity.

And that is in just the second sentence of the article! Venker co-wrote a book. You can buy it on Amazon. If this fact does not make her an actual author, as opposed to a “self-described” one, what would? Are authors only real authors if what they write agrees with Maluf’s views?

Moreover, who are the “many” that found Venker’s views “misogynistic?” Name them. Quote them. This is Reporting 101. Also, there were certainly Williams students and faculty who, while they may not have agreed with Venker, would disagree with such extreme descriptions. A real reporter would, you know, ask people questions and quote them.

And things don’t get much better:

In February, UL planned a lecture by John Derbyshire, a self-described “novelist, pop-math author, reviewer and opinion journalist,” who many believed to be a white supremacist and racist.

Derbyshire is, in fact, an author. How can I tell? Because his books are owned by the Williams College libraries! Look then up in the course catalog and, under “Author,” you will find “John Derbyshire.” If Derbyshire is a “self-described” author, then is Maluf as “self-described” reporter?

What was with the “many believed” dodge? Who are these mythical many? If you can’t find a single such person to quote, even anonymously, then you have no business with such weasel phrasing.

Moreover, given the Record’s previous mistakes in writing about Derbyshire, Maluf (and her editors) have an obligation to bend over backwards to treat him fairly now. To use the “white supremacist” slur while not even acknowledging that Derbsyhire disputes this characterization and forced the Record to issue a correction is just embarrassing.

How did an organization designed to respect all views transform into a group criticized for providing a platform for offensive speakers at the College?

Huh? I have never spoken to anyone associated with UL who thinks the organization was designed to “respect all views.” Where is Maluf getting this stuff? Did she talk to any of the student founders? Did they respond to her questions? If she didn’t talk to them, she needs to admit that fact and acknowledge that she may not have a very good idea about how/why UL was designed the way it was.

My take is that UL was “designed” to promote uncomfortable learning — in the tradition of Robert Gaudino — by bringing unpopular views/ideas/speakers to campus, to expand the space of allowed dialogue at Williams. And, guess what? Maluf provides, later in the article, evidence which supports my view.

As Fischberg told students who gathered at the first lecture in January of 2014, the group sought to invite “speakers who challenge the Williams orthodoxy and promote intellectual diversity on campus.”

Good stuff! Maluf gets credit for, at least, unearthing a two-year old quote from a student leader of UL. But isn’t it standard journalistic practice to tell readers where she got this quote from?

In the 2013-2014 academic year, the group consistently invited highly-regarded intellectuals to speak at the College.

Huh? This just nonsense. UL brought a lot of great speakers but very few people think of, say, Jonah Goldberg as a “highly-regarded intellectual.” Indeed, I doubt that almost any member of the Williams faculty would describe a single one of UL’s 2013-2014 speakers in this way.

It seems that Maluf has a narrative in her head that UL used to be good and wonderful and then turned nasty and stupid. Alas, I lack the energy to dive any deeper into this nonsense, at least today . . . But, until Maluf starts treating her subjects fairly, it is hard to trust any of her other claims, at least without independent confirmation. If she misleads us about whether or not Venker/Derbyshire are actual authors, what else is she misleading us about?

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